The Top 10 Things to Add Value to Your Home

mortgages

Just like purchasing your home, selling it is a journey all its own. Whether you’re aiming to sell your home in one year or five, you can make a number of small changes that offer a big return on your home’s value. Try these key improvements and see the effect on your next home assessment.

  1. An eye-catching entrance. As the gateway into your home, your front door will set the tone for what’s within. Update your door bell, paint the front door, and hang a spring wreath to tie it all together.
  2. Energy-efficient updates: Updating appliances, windows, and fixtures, to their more green counterparts can set your home apart with the attractive promise of future savings.
  3. Low-maintenance landscaping: While flowers are eye-catching, shrubs and drought-resistant greenery make great visual impact with the promise of less hassle.
  4. A thorough clean. A deep clean of carpets, curtains, and corners will make your home sparkle and create a positive first impression. Hiring a professional cleaning service may also help to remove hard-to-clean grime and overlooked areas.
  5. De-cluttered rooms. A tidy house doesn’t always feel open. Heavy curtains, overstuffed couches, and rooms devoid of sunlight can make buyers cautious of square footage. Rid the room of nothing but bare essentials and simplistic furniture to maximize the area of the space.
  6. Extra mirrors. To double the feel of any room, strategically place mirrors to create an illusion of extra space.
  7. Small updates to big places. Kitchens and bathrooms are focal points in the selling process. Without the time and cost of a major remodel, small updates like new lighting, fresh paint, or modern accessories can add value to your home on a budget.
  8. Revamped flooring: Thin or threadbare carpets can raise alarms for buyers as they visualize the daunting need to replace the tired flooring. As your budget allows, replace your home’s carpet beginning high-traffic areas and working outwards.
  9. Modern lighting.Updating light fixtures to a timeless and simple feel, help to elevate a home’s design and gives the potential buyer a blank canvas to imagine life in their new home.
  10. A professional opinion. In under an hour, a trained interior designer can provide suggestions for small tweaks, such as furniture arrangement or paint color adjustments, which can increase your home’s value with limited investment.

While improvements are not a guarantee of improved value, they can make all the difference when drawing in interested buyers. If some of your home-improvement projects require a bigger investment than your budget expected, our lending officers at Alpine Bank can work to help you secure the HELOC you need.

How-To Give Your Children a Financial Education with Their Allowance

Financial LiteracyAllowance, when treated as an educational opportunity, gives your child hands-on experience in budgeting, saving, spending, investing, earning, negotiating, and tracking their money. With these tactics, you and your child can make the most of their allowance while growing their financial literacy.

  • Shy away from weekly allowance. A bi-weekly or monthly allowance better reflects a real-world payment schedule than a weekly handout. Additionally, staggered money instead of a steady cash flow opens opportunities to practice budgeting for both spending and savings goals.
  • Open a savings account. It’s never too early to start saving. Open a savings account with your child and explain the power of compound interest. Establish that they pull 10% of their total monthly allowance to funnel into savings, enabling them to budget the remaining 90% while teaching the discipline and value of saving.
  • Show them the options for their funds. Teach your children the potential their money has by creating four labeled jars for spending, saving, giving, investing. Each time your kids are given money via chores or other revenue sources, have them choose which jar to put the funds in. The spending jar can be used on small purchases like candy bars or little toys, and the saving jar can be put towards larger items that take more time to save.
  • Don’t offer advances. Although children will often try to negotiate getting their allowance early in order to buy the toy that they can’t quite afford yet, don’t give in. In the long run, your kid will benefit more from understanding the necessities of budgeting. That being said, the occasional unsolicited “bonus” for good behavior, or going the extra mile, doesn’t hurt either. After all, there’s very little more motivating than hearing your boss tell you you’re doing a great job – keep it up.

With each dollar your children learn to save, they are propelling their education forward. If you’d like to get your little one’s financial education off to the right start, stop by Alpine Bank today and enroll them in their very own checking account.

Doetch Farms

Spring Planting Season

Jeremy Doetch

Jeremy Doetch, VP, Ag & Commercial Services

As spring starts to erase the remnants of winter, I can’t help but get anxious and excited for this season.  It’s the time of year that I make a checklist for the next 90 days. The reasons I do this is because I’m part of an elite group that consists of 2% of the United States population. This group is working feverishly to get everything ready.  We check and double check equipment, technology items, seed, and fertilizer, and then we count down the days until it all begins. Every member of this group has their own way of preparing for the spring.

For me, this checklist revolves around smells. It may sound funny, but it’s something that has been sown deep into my roots. I can’t wait to smell the exhaust from a tractor just starting up. I can’t wait to smell fresh tilled dirt. The mixture of seed and graphite, along with the occasional smell of grease.  The way the smell of the dirt changes from May to April to June – And then, the satisfaction of a carefully executed plan coming to fruition when I see the first sign of corn and soybeans sprouting above the ground. The smell of freshly cut hay and yes, even the smell of fertilizer.  These smells keep me grounded, keep me focused, and keep me on track.

These checkpoints help me understand and appreciate a farmer’s perspective. When I’m sitting across the desk from a farmer wanting to do business with me, I never forget my roots and I know that this farmer understands my appreciation of these smells in a way that the other 98% of the population does not. We’re farmers. We’re part of an elite group.

Our agriculture lending team has very deep roots in this industry.  When we take the banker hat off at the end of the day, we are putting the farmer hat on.  We strive to help farmers grow their business, protect their legacy, and transition to the next generation.  If your banking relationship is broken and needs repairs, we have the tools to fix it and get you back to enjoying the smells that you love, worry free.

So to my fellow elitists, I wish you all a prosperous and safe spring planting season.  I hope at some point this season, as you are filling your planter at sunset, you take in a deep breath and think to yourself, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Jeremy Doetch, Vice President, Ag & Commercial Services, has more than 14 years of experience in commercial and agricultural lending. From the Poplar Grove area, Doetch plays an active role in his family’s grain, hog and trucking operation. 

The Ultimate Guide to Garage and Yard Sales

Garage Sale Season

 

With a pocket full of dollar bills and a list of dream finds in hand, serious garage sale goers are perking up for the upcoming season. Become a pro deal-spotter by harnessing some of their top tricks of the trade!

  • Check for warranties: Even if they’re dinged or damaged, goods by brands like Craftsman and Chaco may offer lifetime warranties if you send them in for repair. Avoid: Electronic-based gadgets – everything from blenders to tablets – as they’re likely past warranty and cost more to repair than buy new. If they don’t work, don’t buy them.
  • Snatch up fun novelty items: Infrequently used finds like wedding accessories, costume sets, and kitchen appliances can be pricey when purchased brand new. You can buy these gently-used finds for a fraction of the original cost! Avoid: Holiday-themed wares that you’ll use once, store for the year, and toss out at your own yard sale.
  • Think a few seasons ahead: A summer yard sale will be loaded with wintertime treasures. Scope out pricier outerwear like parkas and boots, while keeping your eye out for cross-country skis, durable metal shovels, and other seasonal goods marked at a steep discount. Avoid: Cold weather apparel worn close to the skin, such as hats and long underwear. Also, be wary of major items like snow blowers and snowmobiles, which may require costly repairs that outweigh the price of a newer model.
  • Shop for the kids: When they’re set to outgrow clothes every few months, garage sales are a treasure trove of inexpensive apparel for infants through teens. Be on the lookout for limited-use clothing like costumes and formalwear to save big during special occasions. Avoid: Cribs and car seats which are frequently recalled, soft toys that can’t be easily washed or sterilized, and truly vintage toys which may pose the risk of lead-based paint.
  • See Beyond the Paint: Furniture can be a phenomenal find if you’re willing to put forthsome extra effort. A new finish or a fresh coat of paint can make all the difference on wood and metal furniture. Avoid: Mattresses and upholstered items which may have unknown stains or trapped in odors.

 

Spring Grant Cycles Underway

Witherby, Brenten

Brenten Witherby, Vice President, Commercial Services

Attention Not-for-Profit Organizations:

Spring Grant Cycles are Underway… So, Get Your Grant Applications In!

Alpine Bank is dedicated to helping people, businesses and our communities succeed.  In fact, our focus on supporting and strengthening our communities has been a central part of our mission since we first opened our doors in 1908.

Likewise, since 1961, the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois (CFNIL) has served as a catalyst for giving in order to attract, grow, and preserve a permanent endowment for the needs of the people of Boone, Ogle, Stephenson and Winnebago Counties.  As a local leader in philanthropy, CFNIL reports more than $85 million in assets, more than 400 individual funds, and is approximately 90% endowed.

Although it may take some time and effort, applying for grants can be critical in providing your not-for-profit the necessary dollars to achieve its mission. Stay educated and informed as to which grants your organization is eligible for and make sure you’re aware of deadlines.

In the fall of 2015 alone, CFNIL responded to community need by approving grants totaling more than $1 million.  Recipients included not-for-profits serving Arts & Humanities, Education, Health, Human Services, Sustainable Development, and Youth & Families. A full summary of CFNIL’s fall 2015 grant activity is available for review.

It is not too late to submit an application on behalf of your 501c(3).  The Spring Grant Cycle closes on April 1st.  I encourage you to learn more about CNFL’s grant programs and to see how easy it is to register and submit an application online.

Brenten Witherby is a commercial lender with Alpine Bank and is proud to serve two such long standing organizations with a rich history of giving and community involvement.  Brenten is currently in his second term as a Trustee of the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois and serves on several grant making committees.

Auto Financing and Maintenance Tips

Auto Financing

Purchasing a new vehicle is always an exciting venture. At Alpine Bank we want to help you maximize your buying experience with a trusted and affordable auto loan. Before you start roaming the car lots, glance at our easy auto check list to see what type of vehicle both you and your budget are searching for.

Determine if you want a new or used vehicle.

Many auto dealers today offer both new and used. While new can offer updated technology and the assurance of no prior owners, choosing a used vehicle can drastically diminish cost and offers a comparable quality with moderate mileage.

Decide on a budget and a timeline.

When choosing the right vehicle to purchase, there are many questions to help you research which option may be best on your pocket book in the long run.

-How long do you want to drive this vehicle?

-What does your budget allow you to spend for the down payment and installments?

-When do you need your vehicle by?

-What type of MPG do you need to keep gas costs within your overall budget?

-How long do you want to be paying the loan off? (0-5 years)

With these questions in mind you can better view the credentials needed in the ideal vehicle for you and your family.

Save your down payment.

Speak with one of our experienced lenders to discuss your auto financing needs. It’s great to start saving now, to help secure some money down for your new purchase. When estimating the total cost of your new vehicle be sure to include any maintenance work, tires, or other repairs a car may need.

Talk to us!

If you have any questions or want to begin the process of auto financing, call Alpine Bank at (815) 398-6500 or stop by today. We’re happy to help, and look forward to making your next auto buying dream a reality.

 

Win Big with Basketball Budgeting

Basketball Budgeting

Basketball season is in full swing and there are many comparisons to the sport that can apply to building your own personal budget. From knowing when to pass an expense, to hitting a three with an unexpected bonus, budgeting is a lot like basketball. Learn how to win at structuring your finances with this helpful game plan.

Brush up on your coaching.

Every team is built around the choices of its coach, just as your budget is. The coach selects the players based off merit, potential, and cohesiveness to create a well-rounded team structure. This coach represents you, you decide what direction your budget will take you, and if one piece isn’t working the way you desire it is your responsibility to make the change.

Recruit your team.

Every team has three key player types, centers, forwards, and guards. The center is going to be your all-around player, in the middle of all the action, just like your income. In your budget, this income is going to be after both taxes and your designated savings, this is your center player. Now those savings, giving you a financial buffer, are acting as your guard. Whether it’s a retirement savings, emergency fund, or personal investments, your guard player covers it all. Something additionally has to be driving your budget to financial success, and that is where your forward comes in. Spending is the determining factor to the successfulness of your budget. Just as in basketball, if no one takes the ball up the court there is no potential to score. By managing your spending, you create momentum through your forward player to move your money in a positive direction.

Keep your elbows in.

Every game comes with rules to keep the players safe, staying within these guidelines helps to protect you from receiving any unwanted fouls in the realms of finances.

Foul 1: Spending more than you earn.      Penalty: Paying Interest and losing savings capabilities.

Foul 2: Not having a savings plan.              Penalty: No structure for emergencies or retirement.

Foul 3: Carrying bad credit.                          Penalty: Added obstacles in gaining financial freedom.

Just as in basketball, practicing the fundamentals will push you to better your skills. If you work to create a successful budget based on what you can afford, your consistent monthly expenses, moderated spending, and a sound investment plan, you will be a winning coach in no time.

If you have in questions in how to begin a savings or checking account to help get the ball going, give Alpine Bank a call at (815) 398-6500 today!

Three Keys to Remember for IRAs

Stephen Hofmann, J.D., CPS, Assistant Vice President, Wealth Advisor & Investment Officer

Stephen Hofmann, J.D., CPA, Assistant Vice President, Wealth Advisor & Investment Officer

It’s that time of the year – we all have taxes on the brain. Whether you’ve yet to file, or if you’ve already filed and are looking to get this next year started off on the right foot, we’ve got some key reminders regarding taxes and IRAs.

    1. It’s time to save with a Traditional IRA. Depending on your age, you may still have time to contribute to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) imposes deadlines on when contributions can be made to traditional IRAs. If you have not filed your tax return, and would still like to make a 2015 contribution, you still have time. For 2015 contributions, you have up until the filing of your 2015 income tax return or April 18, 2016.
    2. There are current tax benefits with a Traditional IRA. At $5,500 ($6,500 age 50 and older), the annual limits to an IRA may seem small, but combined with tax breaks and compounding, your savings can add up significantly over time. Depending on your income, you may receive a current tax deduction for the amount of your annual contribution. The size of that tax deduction depends on the tax bracket you are in for 2015. In other words, the traditional IRA can have a double benefit, by saving for retirement and providing a current income tax deduction.
    3. Don’t forget about the Roth. The annual contribution limits to a Roth IRA are the same as a Traditional IRA. However there is no current income tax benefit for contributing. Under current IRS rules, the assets in a Roth IRA will grow income tax free. When you make qualified distributions from a Roth, those distributions are not taxable (traditional IRA distributions are treated as taxable ordinary income). With patience, the tax free benefit of a Roth IRA can be a strong planning tool for your retirement. The Roth does have income contribution limitations, but if a taxpayer is eligible to contribute, the taxpayer can reap large future benefits.

Alpine Trust & Investment Group offers several different calculators to help you begin your planning. These tools are an excellent place to start, providing an opportunity to identify your desired course of action. Meeting with a wealth advisor or retirement planning specialist will help you put that plan in place. Please feel free to reach out to one of our many talented advisors here at Alpine Trust & Investment Group.

Stephen Hofmann, J.D., CPA, is an Assistant Vice President, Wealth Advisor & Investment Officer at Alpine Trust & Investment Group. He has more than 7 years of experience in managing assets, tax planning and financial planning. 

*This does not constitute tax planning services. The above statements do not include all IRS rules that may impact the contributions and tax benefits. To confirm what options are available to you, please contact one of our wealth advisors or retirement planning specialists.

Investment and insurance products are: not FDIC insured; not guaranteed; and, may be subject to investment risk, including possible loss of principal.

Alpine Mortgage Banking – A Year in Review

CWolfenberger_06.15

Cass Wolfenberger, Senior Vice President, Mortgage Banking

At Alpine Bank, we live and breathe the ins and outs of the mortgage world every day.  The average consumer cannot say the same. Unless you are in the business of real estate, you can probably count on one hand the number of mortgages you’ve been up close and personal with.

We understand the importance of educating and informing our customers, providing peace of mind for those making life-altering decisions. As we kick off 2016 in high gear, I thought I’d take a moment to provide a recap of the last year, and talk about what’s on the horizon.

At a national level, 5,256,000 existing-homes and 499,000 new homes were sold in 2015. Although there was a drop in the number of new home sales, there was an increase of 6.5 percent in existing-home sales, indicating a continued recovery of the real estate market nationally.

From a local perspective, the Rockford area Real Estate sales for 2015 increased 3.77% over 2014, while the three month rolling average sale price increased 4.0% to $107,462.00.  Inventory of homes listed for sale is at a 12 year low, hindering a more robust recovery in the number of home sales. Despite the low inventory, we saw the highest number of Rockford homes sold since 2007.

Alpine Bank saw an increase of 58% over 2014’s total dollar amount of mortgages closed, as well as a 43.6% increase in the number of loans closed.  This increased our market share and maintained our position of being the area’s top mortgage lender.

Additionally, we’ve expanded our capabilities to include the servicing of Federal Housing Administration (FHA), making Alpine Bank the only locally owned bank in Rockford to service their own FHA loans.  This has been dominated by large, national banks. Yet, this has been tremendously successful here at Alpine Bank.

We helped 243 families buy a home using the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) grants for down payment and closing costs in 2015. Additionally, Alpine Bank was recognized as IHDA’s top lender in loan quality.

Our team of Alpine Bank Mortgage Bankers continues to grow, setting us up for another successful year full of growth and new opportunity. The future is bright, let’s go together!

Cass Wolfenberger, NMLS#133909, is Alpine Bank’s Senior Vice President, Mortgage Banking and has more than 20 years of experience in providing mortgage expertise to home-buyers. 

Three Rules for Retirement Savings

Michael St. John, CPA, CRPS®, Vice President & Retirement Plan Services Manager

Michael St. John, CPA, CRPS®, Vice President & Retirement Plan Services Manager

For most of us, saving for retirement is a necessary step in ensuring a comfortable lifestyle as we grow older. Despite competing demands for our money, ultimately we must commit ourselves to saving for retirement.

You likely have an employer sponsored retirement plan at your place of work where you can save a portion of your paycheck directly into an account set aside for your retirement (401k, 403b, SIMPLE). And don’t forget about Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). If you do not have a retirement plan at work you might consider regular contributions to an IRA.

Follow three basic rules to boost your retirement savings.

  1. Start Early

Save as much as you can, as soon as you can. The sooner you start, the longer compounding can work in your favor. Don’t assume that you can put off saving for retirement and make up the difference later with larger contributions. Waiting too long to start saving can make it very difficult to catch up. Only a few years could cost you tens of thousands in accumulated savings at retirement age. Start saving today!

  1. Increase Contributions

Sometimes we cannot save as much as we should early in our working years. If you are not saving as much right now, make a plan to increase your contributions each year or every time you receive a raise or promotion. Always be aware of employer matching contributions. Your first goal should be to contribute the amount that will ensure you receive the maximum employer match.

If possible, you should increase your contributions enough over time that you reach the maximum allowable contribution in your plan. Increasing just one or two percent of your pay each year can quickly get you on your way to a savings rate that can make a big difference in reaching your retirement goals.

  1. Don’t Stop

It can be tempting to reduce, or even stop contributing when we change jobs or experience other life changes such as getting married or having children.  It’s easy to stop, but much, much harder to get started again.

We may also feel inclined to stop saving when investment markets take a downturn. Downward trending markets can actually signal a great time to even increase your contributions. By investing consistently through down market cycles, you purchase investments at a lower cost, buying more shares with each dollar, and allowing for greater potential growth of your account in the future.

Reducing or stopping retirement savings in your employer sponsored plan can also reduce employer matching contributions. Make sure you contribute at least enough to receive the maximum match allowed under your plan.

Make saving a priority! By saving what you can now, increasing your contributions over time , and remaining consistent with your current plan, your savings can really add up over time.

The information contained in this article does not constitute tax or investment advice.  The above statements do not include all rules that may impact your contributions and tax benefits. To confirm what options are available to you, please consult your tax advisor or one of our wealth advisors or retirement planning specialists.

Michael St. John, CPA, CRPS® is a Vice President & Retirement Plan Services Manager at Alpine Trust & Investment Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in accounting, income tax and retirement planning.

Investment and insurance products are: not FDIC insured; not guaranteed; and, may be subject to investment risk, including possible loss of principal.